How to Write Business Emails That Always Get Replies, According to Research
I had published an article about the time Richard Branson gave me half his sandwich—and more importantly, the power of kindness and courtesy—and he then sent me an email, thanking me for the kind words.
Branson started the email with “Hi.” He closed it with “Thanks.” And whether intentional or not, he had done what research says is the best way to start and end an email.
Like most entrepreneurs, whenever you send a business email, you hope for a response. Luckily, it’s not all up to chance. Just as there’s an art and science to writing successful marketing emails, you can also up your odds of receiving replies to your business emails by leveraging what research says is the best way to start and close those messages.
The best way to start your work emails
A recent study by Preply that surveyed more than 1,000 Americans in 2022 revealed that 67 percent of us don’t give a thought to how we start and end emails, but nearly half of those who responded (46 percent) felt that they could detect what mood their coworker was in based on their email greetings and sign-offs. That presents an opportunity to easily influence how you’re perceived by those you communicate with by thinking about how you start and end your messages. If you’re already doing this, carry on. But if you’re part of the majority who haven’t been doing this, it’s time to ramp up your email-writing game.
You don’t even have to give it a lot of thought. All you have to do is be friendly without being stiff or overly casual. Remember, a work email isn’t a cover letter to a hiring manager nor is it a text to a friend. As an effective email opening line, a simple “Hi [add first name here],” is all you need to reach out in that note. According to the Preply survey, 67 percent of respondents said that “Hi” is most used, as opposed to 54 percent who used “Good morning/afternoon/evening,” 48 percent who used “Hello,” 19 percent who used “Dear,” and 15 percent who used “Hey.”
An analysis of over 350,000 email threads that was published by Boomerang in 2017 shared some similar but slightly different results for common email salutations with respect to response rates, meaning recipients actually responded to the initial email.
Here are the top five, ranked in order of response rate:
(The average response rate for all emails in their data set was 47.5 percent.)
Although “Hey” might be fine when reaching out to colleagues you regularly interact with, it could sound too casual for business emails to new or potential contacts. And while “Dear” is often reserved for the most formal of interactions, leading with “Hi” seems to be a go-to salutation that works well across scenarios with a strong response rate, no matter who the recipient may be.
With that in mind, the next time you start an email:
– Always include some form of greeting.
Any greeting at all performed better than the overall response rate for all emails. (Once you’ve started an email thread, it’s okay to skip the greeting. But many people don’t. And that’s okay too.)
– Most of the time, use “Hi,” “Hey,” or “Hello.”
Unless your email is—for good reason—extremely formal in nature, then “Dear” is appropriate. But if your email is from one individual (you) to another, start your email more casually with an informal greeting
The goal is to be professional, but also friendly and courteous. Make sure you establish that kind of rapport right away, reinforcing your email greeting with a strong opening sentence. After all, we like to do business with people we like.
The best way to end your work emails
According to that same analysis of over 350,000 email threads, these are the most common ways to close an email, ranked in order of popularity:
|4. Best regards|
|5. Thanks in advance|
|6. Thank you|
|8. Kind regards|
The Preply survey also found “Thanks” to be widely used by 71 percent of Americans. That was only outranked by its more formal variation “thank you,” which is used by 80 percent of Americans.
Popularity is one thing, though. What about response rate? Here’s how those same closings ranked, according to the previous research conducted in the Boomerang analysis:
|Thanks in advance||65.7%|
The clear winner is a version of “thanks.” (Although “thanks in advance” sounds a little presumptuous to me—and is a sign-off I’ve never used—it clearly works.)
Even so, maybe you’re a fan of “Best.” Maybe you see “Best” as your trademark sign-off. Since the difference between “Thanks” and “Best” is only a little over 10 percent, what’s the big deal?
Where response rate is concerned, 10 percent is a major deal. Whether you’re seeking a connection, asking for an introduction, looking for a favor, getting one out of ten more people to respond is an advantage you shouldn’t ignore.
And don’t worry that “thanks” sounds too informal. Professionalism matters where business communication is concerned, but establishing rapport is also important. Communication in general has become much more informal (I’d say even for traditionally formal industries, like law firms).
In fact, coming across as too formal can work against you. I’ve sent emails that the recipients later told me they almost didn’t respond to because the language sounded too formulaic and professional.
After all, people do business with real people —so use real language instead of something you would never say in real life.
So, the next time you wrap up an email:
– Always include a closing.
Any closing performs better than the overall response rate for all emails.
– Consider the context.
“Thanks in advance” is the most effective closing but should be used wisely, like when your request is simple, and the person has clear next steps.
– Choose a sign-off that makes sense.
“Thanks” clearly works. But “thanks” doesn’t make sense if you’re making an introduction. Or if you’re passing on information I can act upon. Or if you’re giving me a heads-up. In those cases, “Best” or “Regards” is better. Make sure your closing is appropriate not only to the request, but also to the person you’re talking to.
Then add your email signature. Use your setting to set it as your default signature for your email template to auto-populate when you start a new email, whether it’s a formal email or an informal one. Your email signature should include:
- Full name
- Job title
- Company name or logo
- Work phone number
- Work email
- Company social media handle(s)
6 email-writing best practices for a good first impression
- Write a standout email subject line. While every email you send will have a different purpose, the first goal of every email is to be opened and read, meaning if the person you’re trying to reach doesn’t open your message, all the work you put into crafting the best email will have been wasted. Past research confirms that 64 percent of people choose to open emails based on subject lines. Take a cue from email marketing strategies, and invest some time in writing a subject line that will get noticed:
- That subject line shouldn’t be a summary of your email, nor should it sound like a spam message. It should highlight the most important reason why someone should open that email while relating to what’s in the body of your message. Inboxes today are flooded with a lot of junk mail. You don’t want yours to get lost in the sea of unopened messages.
- Tone matters in the perfect email message, so use persuasive language, utilizing adjectives, adverbs, power words, and numbers for emphasis, when appropriate. Aim to be engaging and to make a connection, so be impactful and memorable while remaining authentic. This is key to grabbing attention, especially with cold emails that you’re sending out, including any related to recruitment.
- Try framing your subject line as a question, if you think it will spark more curiosity to motivate someone to open an email as opposed to framing the subject line as a statement. But offer value, not clickbait. Show people you have a common goal with how you can solve their problems, and provide solutions—why they would benefit from opening the email.
- Consider the length of your subject lines. Think in headlines, which means not only should your subject line be eye-catching, speaking to someone’s needs, but it should be succinct. A subject line that is too long has the same effect as a run-on sentence. You’ll lose someone’s interest faster than they can click on the next email. Plus, your subject line will get cut off, along with the point you were making for the email recipient to open the message. That character count could range between 41 to 70 characters, depending on the device or email client the reader is using to check the message. Many email marketing platforms, such as Mailchimp, recommend not exceeding 60 characters. Staying on the lower end of the character count or using even fewer characters than that will also prevent your subject line from getting cut off on mobile devices. To sum it up: Less is more when it comes to subject lines.
- Use names. Even when you don’t know someone, “Dear Sir or Madam,” “To whom it may concern,” “Good morning,” or “Good afternoon” without the use of the name in the salutation can be perceived as a lazy greeting, when today, it’s easy to find a person’s name on a company site or on LinkedIn. Whether you use “Dear Mr. or Ms. [last name]” as a formal greeting or “Dear [first name]” or “Hi [first name]” for a more relaxed approach is a matter of preference, depending on the tone you want to strike and the nature of your communication. Also, to avoid misgendering someone, instead of “Dear Mr. or Ms. [last name],” dispense with the honorifics and opt for “Dear [first name] [last name]” for formal salutations. Then follow whatever greeting you choose with a strong first sentence that builds on the subject line to hold attention and keep the recipient reading.
- Consider how you address groups of people. Use “everyone” in a business email, such as when you’re addressing a distribution list (“Hi everyone”) or are reaching out to a general inbox like [email protected] or contac[email protected]. The Preply survey shared that for 52 percent of people, it’s the most popular way to greet a group of individuals. “All” came in a distant second with 22 percent preferring it, and “team” came in third with 15 percent leveraging it. Plus, these are all examples of gender-neutral language, which are inclusive when addressing groups, as opposed to using something like “Hey guys.”
- Double-check punctuation. Are all commas where they need to be, so you don’t have run-on sentences? Be clear and concise. Don’t overuse exclamation points. Showing excitement is fine, but your words and sentences will be more powerful when you strike the right tone. Only use an exclamation point when it’s absolutely necessary and a sentence warrants it to support what you’re sharing. In fact, the Preply research found that 48 percent of people often remove exclamation points from their emails, though 71 percent will sometimes use them to sign off. The Preply survey provided a verdict on emojis, too: While 42 percent of Americans feel they don’t belong in work emails, 58 percent think they’re sometimes okay. Use them judiciously in select cases when you’re already friendly with the email recipient and feel they will be received well. But don’t use emojis when you want to be taken seriously and when you’re reaching out to people who you’ve never engaged with before or haven’t interacted with often.
- Look for and fix any typos. Is there a misspelled name? If the recipient’s name is incorrect the first time you reach out, a business letter won’t be taken seriously, and what was supposed to be a professional email, definitely won’t be an effective email, and you run the risk of follow-up emails being ignored, too.
- Provide a call-to-action (CTA). You’ve seen them in marketing emails, often with a big click-here button, but your business emails can have a conversational version of a CTA, worked into the last paragraph or sentence of your email. Make it stand out, but be sincere. Also, be clear, and include one request instead of multiple ones—e.g., “Are you available today or tomorrow to discuss this more on a call?”